Opposition, Obaseki’s camp trade tackles over NUT’s recognition

[FILE] Godwin Obaseki.<br />Photo: Twitter/GovernorObaseki

Despite commendations trailing Governor Godwin Obaseki’s recognition by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) for his pragmatic approach to issues of basic education, his political rivals have cashed in on the development to renew their battle. 

Critics of the Edo State governor, not only faulted the teachers for recognizing him as the Best Performing Governor in the country, but also picked holes on his educational policies and programmes. Some of the critics, including a former All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship aspirant and party stalwart in the state, General Charles Airhiavbere (rtd), faulted the teachers’ union, alleging that teachers in Edo State remain the worst victims of Obaseki’s administration. Airhiavbere condemned the governor’s decision to shut down some educational institutions in the state, even as he alleged that teachers and students were roaming the streets of Benin City due to the policies of the governor. 

The APC chieftain used the opportunity to restate his ambition to displace Obaseki in the forthcoming gubernatorial poll, saying: “I will join other well-meaning contestants and leaders of APC to deny him (Obaseki) re-election ticket as he does not deserve it come 2020.” 

While discrediting the NUT award, Airhiavbere cautioned the union leaders to be circumspect in order not to engage in what he called a ‘charade’ on account of the award to the Edo State governor. He stated: “I decided to react to the charade of the NUT award because it was indeed very painful that the award came from teachers. Since Obaseki assumed office as governor of Edo State, he decided to shut down most of the educational institutions that operated during the tenure of his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.” 

However, stakeholders in the education sector, who hailed Obaseki for his unprecedented feat in the enactment of basic education, urged him to continue to sustain his vision for quality and sound basic education in the state. It would be recalled that with the success of Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (Edo-BEST) programme initiative, the recent United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York also commended Edo State for the model. 

Obaseki was a guest speaker at the Bank Group’s side event tagged ‘Ending Learning Poverty,’ organised to discuss and highlight the ways in which institutions and governments, such as Edo State, are working to eliminate learning poverty. At the event, Obaseki revealed how the reforms under his administration have changed the fortune of pupils in public primary schools in the state, providing them with a technology-enhanced learning experience.  

The World Bank estimates that only half of the children in low and middle-income countries can read and understand short messages by late primary school age, but reiterated how some states like Edo in Nigeria initiated viable programmes to address the challenge.  Governor Obaseki was touted as one leader that was trying to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 4 (SDG4) by forcefully and urgently taking action on the education crisis in his country and the African continent. 

While Obaseki spoke on how funds were mobilised to kick-off the programme in Edo State, he recounted how Nigeria was recovering from a recession when the state government pooled funds from the Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Areas Development Commission (EDSOGPADEC) to roll out the programme in three local government areas of the state. The governor had said: “In the Edo-BEST programme, over 8,700 teachers have been trained and equipped with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices for improved learning outcomes, which have positively impacted over 150,000 school children in the state.

“Over 234 schools are being reconstructed with 7,094 computer tablets distributed to teachers and headteachers. 11,688 School-Based Management Committee (SBMC) members have also been trained to help in administering and maintaining public education facilities. 

“Since the resumption of new school session in September 2019, riding on the back of the reforms, public primary schools in the state have recorded increased pupil enrolment as more parents and guardians are pulling their children and wards from private schools to register them in the public schools under my the Edo-BEST programme in the state.” 

As the focus continued on Edo State’s efforts at educational advancement, other experts and stakeholders, including the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, World Bank Vice President for Human Development, Annette Dixon, and 2019 Global Teacher Prize Winner, Peter Tabichi, during the World Bank Group’s ‘Ending Learning Poverty’ side event at UNGA, attested to Obaseki’s efforts at transforming the education sector. 

Many teachers, who recommended the governor’s model to other stakeholders and state governors, described Obaseki as a pride to primary school teachers in the state, while noting that the governor remains “a golden fish that has no hiding place.”ALTHOUGH Obaseki’s political opponents found no reason to hail the governor’s performance in basic education delivery in the state, Libyan returnees in the state applauded him on the recent honour bestowed on him by NUT as the Best Performing Governor in Nigeria. The group also endorsed Obaseki for a second term, adding that the governor won the award in recognition of his efforts at improving basic education and teachers’ welfare in the state. 

In a statement, coordinator of the coalition, Solomon Okoduwa, said the award was well deserved, adding that the teachers’ decision has restated the people’s confidence in Obaseki’s commitment to quality basic education in the state. He also commended the governor and the teachers for their contribution to building a better education system in Edo State, stressing that the award was a reflection of the governor’s goodwill and performance in the education sector. 

“Governor Obaseki has transformed the education sector and made the state’s public school system to work again,” the statement partly read. “Many parents now withdraw their children and wards from private schools to public schools as a result of the transformation in the sector. “We congratulate you on the successes in the education sector and the award bequeathed on you by the NUT.” Some leaders of APC are apparently still brooding and having sleepless nights over the NUT award, which has earned Obaseki pride of place across the country.

Obaseki is being celebrated for his pragmatic approach to educational matters in the state. But Special Adviser to Edo State Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, described the attacks on the governor by Gen. Airhiavbere as ‘futile and retrogressive’. Osagie said the award has been “like a very hot balm on the faces of the likes of Gen. Charles Airhiavbere and a few other hapless politicians in Edo State.” 

The governor’s aide noted that the award has caused Airhiavbere and his ilk sleepless nights because they have chosen willful blindness to the transformation of the state in less than three years since the governor came into office. According to him, “Airhiavbere, for anyone familiar with Edo politics, has not only remained a sore loser but a bad product among the Edo electorate, jumping ship with reckless abandon.

Obviously pained by the achievement of the governor, which he and his co-travellers are trying hard to deny, Airhiavbere has taken to the rostrum to sell himself as the alternative, spitting on the joy of thousands of Edo teachers, who, on account of the impressive work condition, exposure to new pedagogy, improved teaching gears, among other benefits they have enjoyed with the Obaseki-led government, have not recorded any strike action in the last three years. 

“In fact, in a matter of speaking, where does an ‘honest’ retired Army General get the sort of money to repeatedly run for the office of governor, which we all know is an extremely expensive venture? Everybody knows that the salary of Army Generals is structured and defined. With the help of a calculator, one can determine what Airhiavbere has earned in and out of military service. 

“One wonders, therefore, where the General amassed the ‘extras’ he is deploying during every election cycle to make feeble attempts at becoming a governor and in the process outing himself as an unrepentant loser, who obviously seeks power for self-aggrandisement,”  Osagie noted that the Edo State Basic Education Sector Transformation (Edo-BEST) programme, which is infuriating Airhiavbere, is today the toast of national and sub-national governments across Africa, as the state government has received delegations from Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Lagos State, among others, all coming to learn from the success of the programme in Edo State. 

“It is sad that Airhiavbere only thinks about brick and mortar when it comes to development. It is said that the most powerful weapon against ignorance and illiteracy is knowledge. When you build structures, including physical and institutional structures, to tackle the rot in the education sector, you are sure to record a more lasting change than just building school blocks. 

“Hence, the Edo-BEST programme runs on five prongs, hinged on governance, teacher development and instructional design, community partnerships, infrastructure and the support and development of the local education authority.”  The recriminations over the NUT award on Obaseki show that the governor’s rivals are not relenting in their open animosities to his second term ambition.

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